The sound of a mother's voice has such an influence on her unborn child that even tiny babies cry with an accent, according to new research.

A study of 60 newborns from France and Germany found that babies appear to pick up the nuances of language even while they are in the womb, and their very first wails can be distinguished according to their mother tongue.

French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, while German babies prefer a falling melody shape — patterns which scientists say fit with characteristic differences between the two languages.

Kathleen Wermke, of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, who conducted the study with French and American colleagues, says it shows newborns "are capable of producing different cry melodies."

The research shows there is an "extremely early" impact from native language, and confirms that babies' cries are their first attempts to communicate specifically with their mothers, she explained.

"They prefer exactly the same melody patterns that are typical of their respective mother tongues," she said. "Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother's behavior in order to attract her and....foster bonding."

The team's study is published in journal Current Biology.

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